I found her on the bathroom floor again, this time slumped beside the toilet. Whatever she’d done was nowhere in sight, but I already knew. I’d kept my mouth shut before due to the fact that she was a veteran stripper and it was none of my business, but this was getting out of control. I’d never seen her like this. I ran to get the bartender for help. I knew she would lose her job but I didn’t want her to lose her life.
Kate* was a beautiful tall blonde I met one night during summer of 2015. She had just had a baby and returned to dancing after a ten year break. Things with her husband had gone south and she needed to get back on her feet again quickly. She had come back to dance, as many of us do in times of need of quick finances. She was bright and personable and gave me great advice as a new dancer: travel while you’re young, save your money, then get out. But as they say, stripping is like a beanbag chair: easy to get into, hard to get out of. I don’t remember seeing the shift of her bubbly personality turn into a dull existence from her drug addiction, partly because I’d acquired my own.
Drugs run rampant in strip clubs, it’s no secret. The notorious strip club bathroom didn’t get its reputation without reason. I’ve watched dancers (and customers) do endless lines of coke off the feminine hygiene product trash can attached to the stall wall, shoot heroin faster than it takes a person to piss, and pop ecstasy while simultaneously chugging Jack Daniels. I’ve seen a customer with an 8 ball of cocaine in his pocket just giving it away to dancers folded up inside 100 dollar bills (and you better believe I played the part of coke head stripper just to receive my own shiny new hundred just to go dump it down the toilet and pocket it.) People come to party and a party is what they demand. If I hadn’t already went through 2 rehab stints before and waited until I was 24 and 2 years sober to start dancing, I’d have immediately done a swan dive straight down the rabbit hole. But there’s also a whole other type of wicked game going on in strip clubs. A customer comes to the stage while I’m on it.
“What do you fuck with?”
“Huh?” I reply, confused.
“What do you fuck with? Weed, pills, coke? What do you like?”
“Nothing, I don’t do drugs, sorry” I say quickly, realizing he had just tried to sell me drugs. Was this a common occurrence I wondered? Turns out, not so much. I see it occasionally today but only with the new girls. Drug dealer comes to the club, preys on vulnerable young woman, gets said young woman hooked and thus guarantees himself another customer. Sometimes they send in women to do this job, offering a quick pinky nail full of product to dancers in the bathroom. It’s a brilliant plan really. These people aren’t stupid. Sadly, new strippers are.
I didn’t magically become an addict because I became a stripper. I have been an addict most of my life, like Kate. Like I said before, I had been clean for a couple of years before I started dancing, but the sudden overwhelming feeling of moving states away from home, quitting my job and becoming even more of the family disappointment weighed heavily on me. Someone offered me a painkiller one night, and I took it. It certainly killed the pain alright, if only temporarily. Suddenly I could dance on clouds and flirt with customers effortlessly and make even more money. I think you all know where this is headed…
The need for pills had surpassed my need for that new makeup I had to have or that coat I’d been eyeing at JC Penny. I paid all my bills but spent the majority of my leftover money on painkillers. I hadn’t taken any for a couple of days and I started to feel a cold sweat coming on, my hairs standing on end all over my body. I chalked it up to not having a cigarette for a couple of days. Nicotine withdrawal; that’s a thing, I told myself. Then came the cramping and diarrhea. Oh god, the diarrhea. I Google searched what was happening to me and I was horrified and mortified at the same time; I was going through opiate withdrawal. I didn’t even know that could happen if you took too many painkillers. I thought that only happened to heroin addicts. I cried and accepted my fate: I had become a junkie, a liar, and a failure, again.
After a particularly intense spring and half-ass trying to move back home, I returned to Michigan mid-summer to dance at a new club. I walked in the door and immediately saw a familiar face: Kate. We hugged and played catch up, asking each other how our summers have been. I noticed the light back in her eyes, her soft skin had returned. She said getting fired had made her get clean and get her shit together. So I decided to as well.
I still struggle with addiction, I will for the rest of my life. The ebb and flow of self destruction in my life seems to be never ending. Girls who become strippers are probably more prone to drug addictions due to their unique personalities and/or mental illnesses mixed with an atmosphere almost encouraging recreational drug use. But it is possible to dance and be a normal person and a non addict (shocking, I know, I’ve met tons of them.) As for myself, I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder at 22 which pretty much guarantees a drug addiction. A resounding “here ya go, here’s the addiction you ordered” as if receiving a package at UPS, except this package had no return address. At least everything I had experienced up to that point in my life made sense after that. I know my mental illness has definitely lead me into this line of work; sleep till noon, go to work at 7pm, make enough money to last all week, then return to my safe, comfortable couch. Repeat when necessary. I’ve learned over the last two years that self care is very important in staying sane and sober while dancing. Forego the 3rd pedicure this month and spend a little time exercising or visiting some friends for fucks sake! Finding a boyfriend who fully supports me as well as having a group of friends that include me has helped my mental health tremendously. I never made many friends here in Michigan because of my previously stated self depricating work schedule. Im a hermit, or a bump on a log as my father would say, but I’m working on it. Part of my own self care has always been to be open and honest with myself and those around me. Broadcasting that you have problems, especially an addiction is not easy. Add that onto the fact that you’re a stripper and people will really take you seriously (sarcasm.) I try not to let the cycle of shame and embarrassment lead me back to my addiction and writing is cathartic for me. So I’ve decided to write with reckless abandon, opening up all facets of my life in hopes of bringing inner peace and healing while simultaneously entertaining people with all things ~*StRiPpEr*~. Now, can someone please pass me a tissue?
*names have been changed
If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, please call the center of alcohol and drug abuse helpline and treatment at 1-800-234-0420